I don’t know how I am alive, I don’t know how I’m doing it, – Kaitlyn Reny, a Certified Nursing Assistant.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic healthcare workers have been at the frontline of the crisis, with reports of responders coming out of retirement or graduating early to fulfill the demands that the virus has put on the U.S healthcare system. Kaitlyn Reny, a Colorado-based Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), is one of tens of thousands of healthcare workers who answered the call to the front lines of the pandemic.
“I don’t know how I am alive, I don’t know how I’m doing it,” Reny said. “Sometimes I’ll have a 12-hour shift and then have another client after at 7:30 pm.” Adding that she typically faces three to four 12-hour shifts a week, on top of her clinical credit hours and her university education.
“You go in, you change the patient, you take their vitals, you bring in their food, and make sure they have everything,” Reny said. Vitals that are usually checked include body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate. With patients in the Progressive Care Unit (PCU) getting their vitals checked every four hours.
While her role at the hospital hasn’t been too difficult to maintain, considering it is similar to her training, she did explain that she is concerned about the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and N95 masks.
“It is ever-evolving, it changes every single day I go in,” Reny said. On her first day on the job, Reny wore PPE, which included a gown, gloves, surgical mask, and goggles when she was in a patient’s room. A comfort mask, which is typically a cloth non-surgical mask, was optional in the halls.
“On Tuesday it changed and you had to wear a surgical mask in the halls, you had to wear them 24/7 even if you are at the nurse’s station. And then in the rooms, you had to wear an N95 with a face shield, on top of the gown and gloves. And we are reusing our N95 masks.”
N95 masks, which filter out 95% of airborne particles, have been in short supply during the pandemic. The organization GetUsPPE.org sent out a basic request form asking what supplies healthcare workers need. They received over 7,000 responses from staff at major hospital networks in the US. The responses were counted and revealed that only 10% of the respondents had enough PPE to last over 2 weeks. On top of that N95 masks are designed to be single-use, but they aren’t being treated so.
“Don’t even get me started on that,” Reny began. “What they are saying is that the face shield is covering it so the bacteria won’t get on the N95. And if we leave or go out to lunch we are supposed to put it in a brown paper bag. We label the sides that the front of the shield is touching and try to keep it as clean as possible. We are supposed to reuse it until it is deformed or soiled, then we get a new one.”
“Technically they should be single-use but because of the shortage, it is hard to do that because if the whole nation did that we would probably run out in a week,” Reny said.
In terms of protecting others from her job Reny is taking all the necessary measures. “When I come home I strip at the front door and I put my robe on, my roommate has Clorox wipes sitting at the front door. I take one, wipe off the door handle I used outside, wipe off the lock, wipe off the handle inside, wipe off the gate, wipe off everything I touch before I get in the shower. I put my scrubs or whatever I was wearing in the washer on the way to my room, shower, wipe my phone down, wipe my watch down, wipe the bottom of my shoes down, put my shoes in a plastic bag for the next day. I take all the precautions.”
“I am secluding myself. I am staying up here in Greeley. I’m not gonna see my grandparents, my friends or my parents till this is all over,” she explained about her personal situation.
“As the mother of a Certified Nursing Assistant that is working at the hospital during this pandemic, I couldn’t be more proud. I worry, but I know that she and the hospital are doing their best to keep everyone safe. This is an experience for her that will make her a great nurse and teach her to be able to handle the unexpected. We are trying to do our best as her family by sending disinfecting wipes and homemade masks,” Reny’s mother shared.
In terms of her mental health during isolation, Reny said “you can’t practice social distancing at the hospital. So it is not too bad for me cause I still have people to talk to at the hospital – but if I didn’t have that I probably would be going insane.”
“It is not as bad as you think it is. I make it sound like it is horrible but the community has come together, like every single day we get food donations. Yesterday we got pizza, the day before we got free Chipotle and cookies, and breakfast burritos. Like we are all gonna become pre-diabetic, all these nurses and doctors,” Reny shared with a laugh of her community’s response to the pandemic. She noted that many were also following the Governor of Colorado’s recommendation to wear face masks and remaining six feet apart- as per social distancing protocol.
“People freak out but I am like you have to look at the person’s comorbidities. Did they have asthma? Did they have a respiratory disease? Were they older? You know, there are those few cases where a healthy person dies who is young but that is a small percentage,” she shared.
“We are taking all the precautions we can, everyone is scared but we try not to show it.”